« PreviousContinue »
perfect fiend. But Tillotson is animadverting on the influence of Catholicism, in a sermon on the 5th of November; and these are his words:-"I do willingly acknowledge the great piety and charity of several persons who lived and died in that communion (the Catholic), as Erasmus, Father Paul, Thuanus, and many others, who had, in truth, more goodness in them, than the principles of their religion do either incline men to or allow of; and yet he that considers how universally almost all the Papists in Ireland were engaged in that massacre, which is still fresh in our memories, will find it very hard to determine how many degrees of innocency and good nature, or of coldness and indifference, are necessary to overbalance the fury of a blind zeal, and a misguided conscience. I doubt not but Papists are made like other men; nature hath not generally given them such savage and cruel dispositions, but their religion hath made them so. Whereas, true Christianity is not only the best, but the best-natured institution in the world; and as far as any church is departed from good nature, and become cruel and barbarous, so far is it degenerated from Christianity. I am loth to say it, yet I am confident it is true, that many Papists would have been excellent persons, if their religion had not hindered them; if the doctrines and principles of their Church had not perverted and spoiled their natural dispositions."
Was there ever a greater perversion? I speak, my readers, as unto wise men; judge ye. It will be necessary, therefore, in our further consideration of Mr. Taylor's statements, to use caution and wariness, lest his calmness and impartiality should lead us astray.-(L. iii. p. 63, 64.)
Mr. T.-The recorded facts of Christianity may be explained on the supposition of its being false. To establish this point, I refer to transubstantiation; and I ask, if thousands of persons would not swear, that they had eaten and drank the corporeal flesh and blood of the Deity?
Mr. B.-Granting the correctness of Mr. Taylor's statement, I cannot imagine, that, when pressed, he will contend that the cases are parallel. The persons to whom he refers, have been educated in the belief of the doctrine of transubstantiation, have cherished it as a tenet sanctioned by antiquity, reverenced by their fathers, conducive to their own best interests, associated with their dearest feelings in the past, and their brightest anticipations in
the future. Those who renounced Paganism, had first to render powerless all these interesting associations, then to receive some 66 new thing," not only subversive of former prejudices, but hostile to former practices also; with which their hearts had never beat in unison, and their understandings connected nothing in this life, but obloquy, desertion, and death.-(L. iii. p. 66.)
Mr. T.-But neither the primitive Christians, nor the whole human race, can evidence the existence of a miracle; because man is a fallible creature, and may be deceived; a perverse creature, and may be deceitful.
Mr. B.-And as Mr. Taylor is a man, he may possess these qualities, and negative his assertions by his own argument; the more so, when he sets himself in opposition to the whole human race.- —(L. iii. p. 66.)
Mr. T.-I tell them, they lie, though they were millions. A miracle is an impossibility to God himself—is an argument of weakness, not of power.
Mr. B.-In other words, it is an argument of weakness, not of power, that a father corrects his child; that a machinist arrests the working of an engine; that a lawgiver deviates from his usual course of procedure. I had thought that ancient fate, which was fabled to bind the gods in its iron chains, indicated weakness, rather than power. But liberty, it seems-full and perfect liberty to do whatever is most fitting upon the whole, and for each particular juncture-liberty is an argument of weakness! Surely, he who established the laws of nature, can suspend the laws which he established: he that at first made man, and breathed into him the breath of life, has power to re-animate the insensible corse. Admit the creation of man, and you have admitted the exertion of miraculous agency. (L. iii. p. 66, 67.)
Mr. T.-But, first, there is no evidence to show that Christianity had its origin in Judea, in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar; and, secondly, there is evidence that it had not.
Mr. B.-The passage of Tacitus, then, requires our first attention. The words, Nero subdidit reos, you translate, "Nero subdued the accused." Who were the accused? Nero, of having set fire to the city of Rome. Nero, therefore, subdued himself.
Mr. T.-Nay, it was the Christians that he subdued. Mr. B.-Were the Christians, then, in arms against Nero, that he was obliged to reduce them into submission?
Your learning ought to have informed you, that subdidit does not signify "subdued," but substituted, or accused falsely. And agreeably to this, the words are rendered by Dr. Lardner, "Nero procured others to be accused;" and by Murphy, "He determined to transfer the guilt to others." Either of these renderings restores the sense of the passage, which is lost in your Oration.-(L. iii. p. 68.)
Mr. T.-But even were this passage genuine, it does not pledge the separate testimony of its author to the origin of Christianity, but only to the accounts which Christians of the very worst characters gave of it.
Mr. B.-Indeed! Where in the world is it to be found? I should have been content, if the words "I conjecture," had been in the above sentence. Be it then known, that there exists not in favour of this conjecture, even the shadow of a proof. Strong presumptions against it, however, are most obvious. Do Christians call their religion a fatal or destructive superstition? Do high-minded historians, such as Tacitus, resort to the dregs of the populace (as were the Christians, according to Mr. Taylor) for the materials of their relations? Would Tacitus rely on the unsupported assertions of the "very worst of characters?" -(L. iii. p. 68, 69.)
Mr. T.-But the passage does not prove the resurrection of Christ.
Mr. B.-No: nobody ever said that it did prove that fact. Yet it affords no mean presumption of its truth; otherwise, how, without the certainty of this, or some other miraculous interposal to attest the truth of Christianity, would Tacitus have found, so soon after the death of Christ, "a very great multitude" of Christians at Rome? -L. iii. p. 69.)
Mr. T.-The resurrection of Christ was not so much as pretended to in the time of Tacitus; and the Epistle of Clemens (A.D.96) contains the strongest possible evidence of the fact.
Mr. B.-In making such a statement, Mr. Taylor must certainly have reckoned largely on the ignorance of his readers, for the following are the most positive testimonies from the Epistle of Clemens, against the correctness of his assertions: "6" "The Lord does continually show us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which he has made our Lord Jesus Christ the first fruits, raising him from the dead;" "By him (Jesus Christ) would God have us taste
the knowledge of immortality;" "Being thoroughly assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ." And if the resurrection of Christ was not so much as pretended to, &c. why should Celsus use these words?"Let us Consider whether any one that has really died, ever rose again in the same body."-(L. iii. p. 69.)
(To be Continued.)
If you should deem the following account of my labours, drawn from the journal which I have kept during the fifteen months in which I have acted as the stated Missionary of the Lancashire and Cheshire Unitarian Missionary Society, worthy of a place in your highly valuable Miscellany, its insertion would oblige many of your readers.
The Association, under whose auspices I have acted during the above mentioned period, has regularly supplied four congregations with the means of moral and religious improvement. Its exertions have been principally, though by no means exclusively, confined within the very populous district around Manchester; and have, upon the whole, been attended with considerable success.
At Oldham, I have preached many times; but from various causes, the congregation there still continues in a very depressed state. The Society at Oldham, has been peculiarly unfortunate. It was early deprived of the very efficient services of that truly excellent young man, the late Rev. B. Goodier, under whose ministry, had Providence spared his life, it would in all probability have continued to flourish. Several of the principal members emigrated to America, and from the difficulty of getting a supply, the public services of the Chapel were very irregular, nor from the same cause has the congregation enjoyed the advantages it otherwise would have done, during the last quarter. But notwithstanding the low state of the Society at Oldham, I am glad to find, that the few friends of Unitarianism there, are manifesting a greater zeal, and indulge the hope that means will shortly be devised for regularly conducting public worship.
I have often preached in several populous villages in the vicinity of Oldham; and have sometimes addressed large audiences in the open air, and distributed a great number of tracts. The working people of this district have long been noted for their rough and uncouth manners, but they seem now to be emerging from the darkness in which they have been enveloped for ages; and manifest a spirit of inquiry on moral and religious subjects. I have reason to believe that I have been the means of widely scattering in this densely populated district, the seed of future good.
At Middleton I have preached frequently, but not with that success which I could wish. The congregation is composed of thinking and serious people, but their number is small. They have a Sunday School that is flourishing; in which 120 poor children are reaping the advantages of education. Though Unitarianism has not rapidly increased in Middleton, still much that is valuable has been effected; many popular prejudices have been softened down, and a more liberal spirit is beginning to manifest itself towards the Unitarians.
At Swinton, my labours, in conjunction with those of others, have been very successful. The regular congregation consists of about 80 persons. A Sunday School is likewise established, in which 150 children are instructed. I have often preached on a week-day evening, in the different houses of those who belong to the Society. I would strongly recommend this plan, wherever it is practicable; it carries religion to the homes of the people— brings it before their children, and thus promotes family religion and domestic happiness. The Society at Swinton, greatly indebted to the attention and exertions of two gentlemen, who reside near the village (one of whom is a Missionary preacher, and was the founder of the Society), and who have given me every assistance and encouragement.
Astley I have frequently visited, and spent many agreeable days with this interesting people. The Society here is a living proof of the great good which is sometimes found to attend the smallest beginnings. A few years since, Unitarianism was quite unknown to the inhabitants of this village, but now there are not less than eighty or a hundred, and often a much great number, who meet regularly on the Sabbath, to "worship the Father in spirit and in truth." When the Missionary Society began its operations here, the religious services were conducted for a considerable time in a barn, as no better place could then be procured. The people flocked together for a while, to hear what this new doctrine was, but manifested no inclination to embrace Unitarianism; many, indeed, who are now its firmest friends, evinced the greatest opposition. I mention this, to show that the people of Astley were not forward in identifying themselves with Unitarians-their conversion was gradual, and therefore, I hope, the more certain. As soon as a few began to avow Unitarian sentiments, a more commodious place was taken-a room capable of accommodating near 200 people, in which a Sunday School was commenced, and public worship regularly conducted. The congregation, from that time, has continued to increase, and the Sunday School consists of 150 children. The Teachers meet together weekly on Saturday evenings, for the truly commendable object of mutual improvement. It must afford to the benevolent mind the highest degree of pleasure, to visit this little community, and to witness their proceedings: with them I have spent some of the happiest days of my life.
I have visited the district of the Methodist Unitarians three times, and have been pleased to observe the cause of truth advancing among them. My first visit to this part was in May 1827,